10 Tips for Emotional Care of Cancer

17 July 2019

Dr. Phang Cheng Kar (M.D.), Consultant Psychiatrist & Mindfulness-Based Therapist


Effective treatment of cancer is more than just the physical aspects - surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy. The emerging field of psycho-oncology has reviewed that the psychosocial factors of cancer could influence the treatment outcome. Here are ten ways you could manage your emotional health while battling cancer:

  1. Find ways to express your feelings, e.g., talking to someone, writing in a journal, blogging, and painting.
    You may write about your journey, confusion, concerns, and expectations. Besides the calming effect, ventilating our thoughts and feelings help us to be more aware of our fears and needs.
  2. Bring a family member or friend along during clinic appointments. They can be helpful in several ways: help to ask questions, remember advice, and give you support. Feel free to ask any questions related to your illness. Do not feel shy, or you will offend your doctor. It is part of his or her professional practice to attend to your questions with patience and kindness.
  3. Join a support group in your local community or online. Find out what helped other patients and families cope with cancer. Talk with other people diagnosed with the same type of cancer. It can help to talk with others and know that you are not alone. However, it is also important to remember that each person’s experience (e.g., with treatment plans and side effects) may be different from yours. Do not confuse and scare yourself unnecessarily – stay calm.
  4. Try relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, music therapy, pleasant imagery, yoga, qigong, and meditation, which can help to reduce anxiety. When you are less anxious, you can focus better and make more wise decisions with regards to treatment.
  5. Be aware of clinical depression which is characterized by feeling down, depressed, or sad; having little interest in doing things; and feeling hopeless. Depression is more common in people with cancer than those in the general population. It worsens the outcome of cancer treatment and a person’s quality of life. Contact and discuss with your doctor if you think you have depression.   
  6. Stay focus on the present. Our mind, in particular during challenging moments, tend to time-travel to the past with guilt and future with excessive worries. As an antidote, try to heighten your attention to the present moment by repeatedly focusing on what you hear (e.g., birds chirping), touch (wind brushing against the skin), or see (beautiful flowers) with a sense of curiosity and appreciation.
  7.  Use positive coping statements and imagery to transform negative thoughts. Examples of coping statements include “Every moment in every way, I’m becoming healthier and happier” and “Things may not get better, but I can always learn to cope better.” As for positive imagery, it can be imagining cancer cells receiving blue healing energy during radiotherapy. Let the cancer cells transform into healthy cells. The mind has tremendous power in healing – make good use of it.
  8. Get spiritual support through prayer, meditation, chanting, or other practices that help you feel more at peace. You may need the guidance of a monk, pastor, or other religious leaders. For a spiritual person, invoking divine powers (e.g., from Buddha, Allah, God) can be powerful in supporting mind-body healing.
  9. Find meaning or purpose in cancer. It is inspiring to hear how some cancer survivors make peace with and express gratitude for their illness. There is a silver lining in everything, including cancer. These are some of the commonly reported lessons from having cancer:
    • It helps me to prioritise the things I want to do
    • I have learned to appreciate the simple joys of everyday life
    • I am more spiritual and connected to God
    • I know who are genuine friends in my life
    • I am more empathetic than before
  10. Caregivers should take good care of themselves to avoid burnout. Take care of your body; make time to exercise, eat healthy foods, drink sufficient water, and get enough sleep. Avoid alcohol and smoking. Take care of your mind too; be kind to yourself, express your feelings, find time for yourself and other relationships, and get help in supporting yourself and the one you are caring.

FREE access to Dr. Phang’s ebook on overcoming depression entitled “I’m Still Human, Understanding Depression With Kindness” - English | Chinese.

Image source: https://pixabay.com/photos/nurse-heart-pulse-stethoscope-3624461/

Tags: mental health